USDA to Buy $70.9 Million of Seafood for Food Assistance Programs

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials plan to purchase $70.9 million worth of seafood harvested in U.S. waters for domestic food assistance programs in what Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says is the largest single seafood purchase in the agency’s history.

Bids were being solicited online via the Web-Based Supply Chain Management (WBSCM) system and on the Agricultural Marketing Service›s website at, with deliveries expected to begin in mid-August.

Seafood purchases all from domestic waters include $25 million for Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic wild caught shrimp, $20 million for Alaska Pollock, $9 million for Pacific whiting fillets, $8.9 million for sockeye salmon and $4 million each for Pacific pink shrimp and Pacific rockfish fillets.

Lori Steele, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association (WCSPA), said the USDA purchases will help supplement and stabilize existing markets, allowing the industry to keep American fishing and processing families working through difficult times.

The purchases would also result, she said, in the public getting healthy, nutritious seafood from sustainable stocks, making it a win-win situation for everyone.

“These kinds of purchase programs offer our industry an ‘overflow valve’ for some of our seafood products as well as some economic stability when other markets are unstable or unavailable,” she explained.

Steele said the West Coast seafood industry has a number of products ideal for such markets and hopes to continue working with USDA to bring a greater diversity of high-quality seafood to their programs.

In a letter to the USDA in March the WCSPA, Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, Oregon Trawl Commission and Fishermen’s Marketing Association asked that the seafood purchases include Pacific pink shrimp, Pacific rockfish and Pacific whiting. Ten West Coast lawmakers, including Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.; Reps. Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio, Suzanne Bonamici, and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif.; and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., added their support in a letter to Vilsack in early April.

Alaska’s congressional delegation also applauded the purchase plans. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, said this historic largest single seafood purchase in USDA history would have a tremendous impact on the struggling seafood sector, and also ensure food assistance programs can provide nutritious and healthy food for millions of Americans as the nation continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Purchase plans were announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who noted that the impacts of COVID dealt a heavy blow to the American seafood industry. These purchases, along with others for fruits and vegetables, he remarked, would benefit food banks and non-profits working to help Americans feed their families while the government works to get the economy back on track.

The seafood buys are part of an overall $159.4 million USDA package that also includes apricots, chickpeas, dry peas, lentils, Navy beans, pistachios and peaches, with all purchases authorized under Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act.